Friday, June 03, 2011

Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

This is part of a series of reviews for the Hugo awards. One of the other novels, Cryoburn, was already reviewed and found wanting, so I was apprehensive about having to read novels I wouldn't necessarily like.

Well, the first, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms blew me away. It's not science fiction; it's fantasy, but not the elfy-welfy fantasy that populates the bookstores nowadays. It's bold and imaginative in a way I haven't seen for a while. If more novels were like this the world would be a better place.

The protagonist of the story, Yveine, is called away from the "uncivilized" kingdom she rules to Sky, the center of all the hundred thousand kingdoms. There, she learns that she's to be designated an Heir to the Kingdoms. Except that there are already 2 other Heirs, and they're out for blood.

That sounds very mundane. But this is not a human empire. It's a theocracy enforced by the reality of gods. Sky's inhabitants control the very gods themselves, and the politics and possibilities are all tied to the war between the gods that led to this situation and we get shown drip by drip how the situation both corrupts the gods and how this power in turn corrupts humans.

If that was the only theme in this novel it would have been enough. N.K. Jemisin works in feminism, atheism, the proper use of power, and love in this novel. There's a reveal nearly every other page, and little of it is predictable, even though every reveal makes sense as a piece of the greater puzzle. Despite this being a long book (432 pages in the dead-tree edition), it doesn't feel like as the plot and action moves at a breathless pace. In a brilliant move by the publisher, Orbit, the Kindle Edition is $2.99. At that price, forget about the library and just buy it. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I now look forward to reading the rest of the Hugo nominees if they are of similar quality.
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